Michael Cohen: Lots of Wind, No Damage

Dems hoped for a smoking gun but what we got was uncorroborated evidence from a convicted perjurer.

Michael Cohen testifies on Capitol Hill, 2/27/19. (CSPAN/Screengrab)

While President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un meet in Vietnam to negotiate a de-escalation of nuclear tensions, Capitol Hill is focused on the latest bout of political theater. The world’s hotspots might be going through permanent alterations in the next 24 hours, but legislators are too busy navel-gazing to notice.

This morning was the first hearing of the House Oversight Committee since the Democratic Party won back the House of Representatives in the midterms. “The American people voted for accountability in November,” declared Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), before settling in what turned out to be an extremely contentious hearing that lasted most of the day.

The star of the hearing of course was Michael Cohen, employed as Trump’s personal lawyer for a decade until last year. During the past, consequential nine months, Cohen pleaded guilty and was convicted of campaign finance violations, fraud, and lying to Congress while testifying in 2017. He’s scheduled to report to prison in May for a three-year sentence.  

The purpose of his re-testifying today was to speak about his relationship with Trump. Although he previously said that he’d “rather jump out of a building” than turn on his former boss, this morning he did just that.

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It was only seconds before fireworks went off between committee members. Congressman Mark Meadows (R-NC) immediately asked to postpone the hearing, accusing Cohen of intentionally withholding his written testimony so that Republicans would not have enough time to prepare questions. According to Meadows, this was part of a pattern of behavior from Cohen, showing disdain for the congressional body. The motion was tabled by a party-line vote, and a partisan taint would define the rest of the hearing.

In his opening statement, Cummings said it was a legitimate to ask whether Cohen’s testimony could be trusted, since he’s admitted to lying in the past to protect the president. But it was the committee’s job to listen to Cohen and find the truth. “The American people can judge his credibility on their own,” Cummings said.

The ranking member, Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), let loose a barrage against Cohen. Jordan, a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus and a conservative attack dog, recently lost a vote for House Minority Leader. “Certainly it’s the first time a convicted perjurer has been brought back to be a star witness,” he said. According to Jordan, the whole proceeding was influenced by billionaire Tom Steyer’s campaign to impeach the president.

“He is a racist. He is a conman. He is a cheat,” Cohen said of Trump. While his words were blistering, the rest of Cohen’s testimony fell short of what Democrats were hoping for.

Cohen apologized profusely throughout the hearing for lying to Congress, claiming that it was not representative of his character. “The last time I appeared before Congress, I came to protect Mr. Trump. Today I am here to tell the truth about Mr. Trump,” he said. But on the president’s personal involvement, Cohen made clear that Trump had not directly told him to lie to Congress. “In his way he was telling me to lie,” Cohen said, which doesn’t change the facts.

Likewise, Cohen had nothing to add about the alleged conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. “Questions have been raised about whether I know of direct evidence that Mr. Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia. I do not. I want to be clear. But, I have my suspicions,” he said. Suspicions of a perjured former lawyer notwithstanding, Cohen has nothing of value to add to the Mueller investigation.

What Cohen did claim was that during the campaign, Trump was aware that long-time confidant Roger Stone was communicating with Julian Assange and coordinating the release of documents by Wikileaks. “Anybody who believes Julian Assange was able to phone Roger Stone from inside Ecuadorian Embassy with neither GCHQ, NSA, CIA, MI5 or FBI intercepting the call, is severely deluded,” reads part of a tweet from British diplomat Craig Murray. Murray, an associate of Assange’s, has cast aspersions on the idea that Russia was behind the DNC email leak or that the Russians were Wikileaks’ source of the emails. The special prosecutor’s indictment of Stone in January made no mention of calls with Assange, and the allegation remains unproven.

Furthermore, Cohen claimed that Trump was aware that Wikileaks was going to dump sensitive campaign material before it happened. As Congressman Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) pointed out, everyone had advanced knowledge. Assange had tweeted about it beforehand.

The testimony would not have been complete without the requisite accusations of racism. According to Cohen, Trump had made several racist comments in his presence over the years, including that “he told me that black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid.” Meadows interrogated him about these comments, making it clear that there were no recordings and that the only proof was Cohen’s word. When asked for any evidence of the president’s animus towards people of color, Cohen cited that there were no black executives in the Trump Organization.

Besides these headline grabbers, Cohen was kind enough to include amusing details that will earn some chuckles. He claims that Trump ordered him to threaten legal action against the president’s high school and college if they released his records or grades without his permission. Also, that contrary to the president’s claim, he did not suffer from bone spurs and willingly avoided the Vietnam War draft. Finally, Cohen says that Trump often told people that his son Donald Trump Jr. “had the worst judgment of anyone in the world.”

Cohen ended his statement by personally thanking Cummings, Adam Schiff, and Nancy Pelosi.

Debbie Wasserman Shultz (D-Fla.), in her questioning of Cohen, attempted to pull the narrative back towards Russian collusion. Claiming that Russia had “weaponized” Hillary Clinton’s emails and that the Trump campaign was “filthy with Russian connections,” Wasserman Shultz pressed Cohen to admit to any kind of election tampering. He demurred, repeating his earlier statements that he was unaware of any collusion.

The rest of the hearing meandered on with both parties passing the baton in questioning Cohen. “We have brought this committee to its knees in terms of its credibility,” said Jody Hice (R-GA). Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) said Cohen was a “pathological liar,” while Massie questioned whether he possessed a conscience. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) asked Cohen to give advice to young people about the consequences of dishonesty, while many Republicans including Jordan, Clay Higgins (R-La.), and Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) repeatedly asked Cohen if he had any book deals in the works.

Meanwhile, Carolyn Mahoney (D-N.Y.) called the whole Cohen arc “a story of redemption.”

Despite the media attention and the desire for a smoking gun, Cohen’s testimony is uncorroborated hearsay from an unreliable source. Even his most excitable allegations, if somehow proven true, do not violate federal law.

In three months, Michael Cohen will be in jail, and Donald Trump will be negotiating an end to the Korean War. Which news story should really be getting the nation’s concentration?

Hunter DeRensis is a reporter for The National Interest. Follow him on Twitter @HunterDeRensis.

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25 Responses to Michael Cohen: Lots of Wind, No Damage

  1. Whine Merchant says:

    The convoluted pseudo-logic of this apology for Trump is so bizarre, it could be described as…”Trumpian”.

  2. Gerald Arcuri says:

    “Despite the media attention and the desire for a smoking gun, Cohen’s testimony is uncorroborated hearsay from an unreliable source. Even his most excitable allegations, if somehow proven true, do not violate federal law.”

    Gee! I’m so relieved to know that the man who occupies the most powerful political office in the world is merely a philanderer, a liar, a cheat, and a racist. This will make me sleep much better. For a while there, I was afraid that someone could credibly accuse him of breaking the law!

    This article is one of the worst tu quoque arguments I have ever read.

  3. Alex A. says:

    “A convicted perjurer”. I’m not defending Cohen, but all the president’s men are liars. I mean the only people with relevant information are the people indicted for false statements… pertaining to Russia. Marcy Wheeler says Stone was most likely overplaying his hand, and he instead was in communication with Nigel Farage based on the dates.

    Cohen may have been aware of the pro quo of a quid pro quo arrangement. Trump’s children, and Manafort and his ilk would more than likely be aware of the full story, though I can see this being compartmentalized for each with some overlap i.e Manafort was involved with polling data sharing, but was also part of the Trump Tower meeting.

    Too much grandstanding from both, but especially republican congressman. Still, there were definitely pieces filled.

  4. GJR says:

    I can’t be the only to have noticed that TAC published this article before Cohen’s testimony had actually completed.

  5. Stephen Pickard says:

    Much of Cohen ‘s testimony has been corroborated by Trump’s lawyers as information began to dribble out and Trump had to slowly admit to the coverup payments, to the Trump deal in Russia and the like. What is damming is that Trump encouraged Cohen to lie,had his other attorneys help in preparing a false written statement to the committee , his false financial statements to taxing authorities.

    For Trump it is telling that people who have worked for him or who were in his administration all say damaging things about him, but he says are all lying and bad people. What is it about Trump that so many people after separating themselves from him tell such terrible things about him. Some are even had to go to jail after they have lied for him. Look at the list of characters in jail, going to jail or out of jail who all worked for this man.

    When is it too much for our country.

  6. Donald says:

    So far, Russiagate hasn’t amounted to much. Trump is corrupt, racist, and a liar, but for various reasons this hasn’t been good enough for the idiot “ Resistance”. I think the need for an excuse for losing the election to a moron, plus the desire for a new Cold War has been the real reason for the Russia fixation.

  7. grumpy realist says:

    “Conspiracies don’t have angels as witnesses.”

    If we were to follow Mr. Derensis’s argument as to what witness testimony to accept, we’d have very little evidence against….drug dealers. Organised crime. The Mafia. At all.

    Has Mr. Derensis taken the above stand? Has he argued before in articles that all testimony from “perjurers” be thrown out? Has he insisted that the same charity he demands for Trump be applied to all other crimes in the United States?

    Or, is he simply looking for an excuse to throw out Michael Cohen’s testimony?

  8. K squared says:

    This article is pretzel logic on steroids.

  9. HIstoria says:

    Well, yes. Cohen is a reprehensible person. But who hired him to run interference for him?

    “Czar good, ministers bad”

    Seriously, why believe a perjurer?

    Because he got caught and there were consequences and he KNOWS that if he lies again, he WILL be caught (because the evidence is there) and it will be much worse for him. That is a powerful incentive to tell the truth.

  10. P W Mason says:

    Keep living that fiction Hunter…

  11. Erin M. says:

    Hahaha! Ahahahahahahaha!

    That was a good o…wait, you were serious? Ahahahahahahaha!

    [wipes tears from eyes] Okay dude, whatever makes you feel better I guess

  12. quizil donor says:

    Whoever thought it was in any way a good optic to bring the Black lady on ‘stage’ as a Trump employee, to stand there in mute silence as a advance confirmation that Trump is not a ‘racist’, spoken for on behalf of a white congressman..

    All I can say is those optics are not in any way leading to where they think they will, except possibly with a really lame audience.

    That is not a win in any stretch of the imagination. I thought about that lady – a paid dependent of the Trump org standing there – and I felt really bad for her being drawn into something that had no relation to whatever her actual work duties are,

    but even more so, I tried to comprehend on what astral plain this would strike someone as a productive move or some sort of a counter-propaganda win..

    That move was not only tone-deaf, it was counter-productive to a nth degree.

  13. John S says:

    The Republicans who attack Michael Cohen’s character instead of trying to debunk the substance of his testimony clearly don’t think Cohen is lying. They must know he’s telling the truth.

    What TAC offers is not conservatism, but unscrupulous political hackery.

  14. CLW says:

    “In three months, Michael Cohen will be in jail, and Donald Trump will be negotiating an end to the Korean War. Which news story should really be getting the nation’s concentration?”

    More like, in three months Michael Cohen will be in jail and “reporters” like Hunter DeRensis will still be spinning excuses for Trump’s latest lies, boasts, and failures.

  15. Connecticut Farmer says:

    Trump is alleged to have colluded with “the Russians.”

    Sooo…who are the Russians with whom he colluded?

  16. gnt says:

    There’s a lot of organized crime bosses in prison who would agree that testimony should only be allowed from people of unimpeachable character. People who run criminal enterprises tend to associate with criminals, and to employ criminals to conduct their business. If you want information on how the enterprise works, you’re going to have to get it from people who are not upstanding citizens.

  17. JR Roloff says:

    It is telling, I think, that the Conservative brain’s love of loyalty can override almost anything else. It is telling that the Conservative blogosphere has been fixated more on the fact Mr Cohen is a turncoat, than on addressing in any substantive way anything he’s said. Don’t let’s forget that he is so untrustworthy that he was hired to be the deputy finance chair of the RNC. Mind you, that was before the public at large knew of his misfeasance. Perhaps that makes a difference.

    I shall close by noting that attacking Mr Cohen’s character does not in one iota take away from the veracity of any evidence that exists. One can slur testimony until the cows come home; the paper trail persists regardless.

    Clean. Your. House.

  18. grumpy realist says:

    Actually, considering the collapse of the talks with North Korea, I don’t think that “Donald Trump will be negotiating an end to the Korean War.”

    Yet another point that this author got wrong.

  19. Uncle Billy says:

    Cohen is a liar and a cheat, just like his old boss. Old news.

    The Hanoi summit was just a phony photo op for two fat guys. Nothing accomplished.

  20. Ken T says:

    In three months, Michael Cohen will be in jail, and Donald Trump will be negotiating an end to the Korean War. [emphasis added]

    You might want to rethink that statement, in light of yesterday’s news.

  21. Mark Thomason says:

    More to the point, we heard things we all knew he’d say, and it was confirmation to both sides of what they already thought.

    There was nothing new here, and no surprises. The Democrats had a good time having someone say nasty things about Trump. That’s all that happened.

  22. Anton says:

    This is an op-ed masquerading as a news piece.

    TAC is better than this drivel…

  23. Lee says:

    Are we really supposed to be concerned that somehow campaign finance laws might have been broken by a candidate or a surrogate of a candidate paying hush money to a prostitute? In this day and age?? In any case it seems to stretch the limits of any reasonable interpretation of the law. Not to be dismissive of those on center or right of the political spectrum who oppose Trump, but seriously look at the actual policies proposed by the other side. I don’t really care about these relatively minor unproven and unprovable accusations that pop up every week or so. I care about actual ideas and policies that the administration s pushing. The major initiatives are not crazy or racist or any of the other accusations hurled by the left. It’s not crazy to want to take a second look at globalization and trade policies with China, Nafta, etc. It’s not crazy to want to get a real handle immigration, illegal and legal. It’s not crazy to say our “allies” in the EU should actually pay for their own defense. Ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is a great idea. Pulling out of Syria (where we should have never been involved) is a great idea. I get it that not everyone will agree with every policy, initiative or whatever. Administrations make good and bad decisions, and on balance I see mostly good efforts for this one, especially compared to the last administration. There’s a reason Trump won the nomination and election. Not because people like his personality and shortcomings, but in spite of them, and because he was the only serious candidate talking about these policies.

    How can anyone seriously compare these common sense policies (which you may not agree with) with the top priorities of the previous administration and current democratic leadership? They actually push for allowing boys that either think they are girls or pretend to be girls to use restroom and locker facilities designed for girls… For boys who say they are girls to compete on girls sports teams. You can pretend to be whatever sex you like, I don’t care. But I don’t have to pretend along with you. AOC, socialism, communism, Green New Deal. Not to excuse GW Bush for the mess he made in the middle east either, but the previous administration’s blunders there were unbelievable!

    With all the constant false narratives and sky is falling stories pushed by the MSM, is it any surprise when people yawn at non-issues like the Cohen testimony.

  24. Sam Bufalini says:

    Mark Thomason, I think there was something new — The House intelligence community intends to call the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer to testify, the Daily Beast reports.
    “Allen Weisselberg received renewed congressional attention after disgraced Trump fixer Michael Cohen on Wednesday repeatedly mentioned the Trump Org CFO as crucial to various aspects of dubiously legal practices by the president, from the Stormy Daniels hush-money payments to potential insurance fraud.”

  25. JeffK says:

    How about those checks with Donald Trump’s signature? First time we’ve seen those.

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